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Home Facts SOA/WHINSEC Graduates The Illinois Congressman and the Dictator's Daughter
The Illinois Congressman and the Dictator's Daughter PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 10 July 2004 00:00
A love story that raises memories of bloody repression in Central America has suddenly intruded into Illinois politics.

Representative Jerry Weller, a Republican from the small farm town of Morris, surprised friends and supporters this week by announcing that he was
engaged to a member of the Guatemalan congress. His fiancee, Zury Rios Sosa,is the daughter of Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, a former Guatemalan dictator who presided over one of the most brutal military campaigns in modern Latin American history.

Mr. Rios Montt, who is under house arrest pending trial on charges of organizing a political riot last summer, remains a major political figure in
Guatemala. His daughter has for years been one of his principal advisers and strategists.

Because Mr. Weller is a member of the House Committee on International Relations and sits on its Western Hemisphere subcommittee, his newly
announced tie to one of Guatemala's most notorious political figures has added spice to
his re-election campaign. His opponent, Tari Renner, a political science professor at Illinois Wesleyan University, has made it a campaign issue.

''At the very least, Weller needs to repudiate the Rios Montt regime and his party, and also resign from the international relations committee,'' Mr.Renner said. ''This is not about private life. It's a matter that could affect not
just policy, but national security. National security is not a personal issue. Genocide is not a personal issue.''

Guatemalan news organizations pressed Mr. Renner for interviews on Friday, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington went on the attack. The committee's press secretary, Greg Speed, said in a statement
that Congressman Weller has a clear conflict of interest serving on the committee that sets American policy for Central America while he's marrying into the family of a Guatemalan dictator.''

Mr. Weller was not available for comment on Friday. His spokesman, Telly Lovelace, said the wedding, which was to take place after the November election, posed ''no difficulty and no conflict.''

''It's like a congressman who's a farmer and serves on the agriculture committee, or one who's on the finance committee even though his wife works at a bank,'' Mr. Lovelace said. ''It has nothing to do with policy.''

In a radio interview here on Thursday, Mr. Weller said he was ''not going to talk about Guatemalan domestic politics.''

''I support my fiancee, she's a wonderful woman, I love her with all my heart,'' he said. ''For my opponent to attack her shows he is the lowest
form of politician.''

Mr. Rios Montt seized power in a military coup in 1982 and immediately began what the Guatemalan press called a ''scorched earth'' campaign against
leftist insurgents. A United Nations commission later concluded that during his period
in power, which lasted less than two years, the army committed 626 massacres of civilians. The commission's chairman, Christian Tomuschat, said Mr. Rios Montt's government was responsible for ''acts of genocide against groups of the
Mayan people.''

Over the last decade, Mr. Rios Montt has re-emerged as the head of a political party, the Guatemalan Republican Front. Adriana Beltran, a
researcher of Guatemala for the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights group, said that the party ''supports the interests of the right-wing military.''

When Mr. Rios Montt ran for president of Guatemala last year, his daughter called him ''totally democratic.'' She said that people in one town who pelted him with rocks and drowned out his speech with chants of ''Murderer!'' had
violated his human rights.

''Zury has supported her father very strongly, and as far as I know she has
never distanced herself from the atrocities, the scorched-earth policy or the massacres that were part of his presidency,'' Ms. Beltran said.

Mr. Weller, who is 47 and has never married, met Ms. Rios Sosa at a reception given by the United States ambassador to Guatemala last year. He was
visiting Guatemala City as part of a Congressional delegation. This week he said
that both he and Ms. Rios Sosa planned to keep their legislative jobs and would spend time together whenever they could.

''She is a very intelligent and well-educated woman, but she is also one of her father's main strategists,'' Frank LaRue, director of Guatemala's Presidential Commission on Human Rights, said in a telephone interview. ''We
have two main concerns about this marriage. The first is that if this congressman is going to seek some kind of political advantage from having
married a Hispanic woman, people should be aware of what woman we're talking about. Second, we worry about what effect this could have on Congressional policy toward Guatemala.''

Mr. Weller is serving his fifth term in Congress. His district was drawn to protect the incumbent, and his seat is considered secure. Still, in 2000 the combined votes given to Al Gore and Ralph Nader in the area slightly exceeded those cast for George W. Bush. Some Democrats hope that Mr. Renner can win if Senator John Kerry and Barack Obama, a Democrat running for the Senate, pull
enough anti-Bush voters to the polls.

Mr. Renner said he doubted that Mr. Weller's marital plans would change many votes, and political analysts agreed.

''I doubt it's going to affect the race much,'' said Chris Mooney, director of the Institute for Legislative Studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield. ''It's something unusual, and it might attract people's attention in what would otherwise be another sleeper Congressional election. But you have to ask how many people in the district could even place Guatemala on a map.''
Last Updated on Friday, 22 April 2005 08:54

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